Updated: May 12
I ONCE REPRESENTED a young woman who had been summoned to appear in court for driving while uninsured.
She was petrified, of both the process and the idea of having to stand in front of a Judge, something which nauseated her.
I mean this quite literally; she shook with anxiety whenever I met with her and when I spoke to her she regularly welled-up with tears.
She was about 22 and was always accompanied by her parents. They had anxiety etched in their faces too, as if this had been weighing on them too.
The young lady (“Sarah”) had been driving her car and had been stopped by the Gardai. It transpired that she was uninsured. Sarah was horrified.
And it’s the kind of horror you can’t fake. This was the sort of genuine pain that brings on physical sickness.
She could not fathom how she could be driving without insurance.
The very idea seemed absurd to her.
What had happened was that her policy had lapsed by a few days, after a direct-debit mandate had failed.
In other words, the direct debit hadn’t gone out from her bank when it should have. And when this happened her insurance company automatically voided her policy of insurance.
That’s what they do: if your bank doesn’t transfer funds from your account to theirs on time, they cancel your insurance.
It’s the kind of horror you can’t fake.
This was the sort of genuine pain that
brings on physical sickness.
She was driving around the city of Galway for 4 days blissfully unaware that she was not covered.
When she found out it brought on a bout of depression so severe that she was prescribed medication by her doctor to deal with her anxiety and to help her sleep at night.
BY ANY RATIONAL STANDARD her reaction might have been deemed extreme, but there are many people in society just like that.
These are people (maybe you are one of them) for whom the very idea that they might be considered a law-breaker is unimaginable.
What might people think if they found out?
What might her friends and neighbours, and employer think?
Being prosecuted for driving without insurance is no joke. It carries a 2-year disqualification from driving.
Just imagine facing that reality.
Now you have an idea about how she felt.
When she took out her policy of insurance, she gave them almost every conceivable piece of information they would need to help them formulate the policy they intended to quote.
They had her name, address, date of birth, email address, date she passed her drivers test, occupation, previous driving record etc.
They also had her telephone number.
Yet they never rang her.
Nobody in the credit control department of the multinational insurance concern bothered to pick up the phone to tell her she had a problem.
A big problem. A problem so big that if she crashed into someone else not only would she not be covered, but the other driver would discover that they couldn’t claim off her insurance.
Then you have to claim off the MIBI.
The MIBI is a central fund paid into by insurance companies. The fund is used to protect drivers who have been injured or suffered loss from uninsured drivers.
Who pays for that MIBI fund?
That’s right: you and me.
The insurance company had been well able to call her when it came time to getting her bank details and signing her up.
After that they didn’t care.
Sarah was prosecuted for driving without insurance.
When I met her outside court, she was with both parents and the distress on their faces told a story of having had to cope with the severe anxiety that their daughter had been feeling over the last few months.
That sort of stress, spread out over months, takes its toll.
BEFORE THE COURT THAT DAY I had asked Sarah to prepare a CV of sorts for me.
I wanted to be able to read to the Judge some of her educational accomplishments and work history, as a means of indicating just who she was.
I expected a paragraph or two. She sent me three A4 pages crammed with information.
She was a high-achiever.
She had been top of her class in University, had gone on to complete an MBA and had been head-hunted by a pharmaceutical company. And she also did volunteer work whenever she could at weekends.
I had never read anything quite so impressive about a client of mine.
There is something quite sad
about seeing someone carry an
enormous psychological burden
that runs the risk of overwhelming them.
When the case was called, she stood next to me. As the prosecuting Garda began to give her evidence of having stopped Sarah on that day, Sarah hung her head. She was utterly ashamed to be where she was.
I had made up my mind to hand Sarah’s CV into the Judge so that he could read for himself just what kind of person she was.
I had just got to the point where I was telling the Judge that this entire episode was having a profound effect on her when I could hear sobbing next to me.
Sarah had begun to cry and as she did so I turned to the Judge and said, “You can see what I mean”.
There is something quite sad about seeing someone carry an enormous psychological burden that runs the risk of overwhelming them.
The Judge clearly felt that way too.
When he enquired of the Garda as to whether or not she felt that this was a “once-off” event the Garda very fairly agreed that she felt that it was.
“And she didn’t know?” he asked me.
“No” I said, “she did not. Nobody contacted her”.
If there’s one thing insurance companies love,
its using the pretext of penalty points
to magnify the premium you’ll have to pay next time round.
The Judge was so appalled by the behaviour of the insurance company that he struck the case out.
He simply could not understand -as I couldn’t- how nobody in that sprawling giant was assigned to the task of contacting motorists when their direct debit mandates failed.
But isn’t it all our own responsibility to make sure our business is in order?
Yes it is. But these types of events keep repeating themselves.
Quite a few motorists have found themselves in similar circumstances, where their direct debit failed and nobody reminded them of this.
ALMOST ALL OF THESE MOTORISTS were convicted of driving without insurance, and some would have been disqualified.
Even if they weren’t disqualified, they would have received a conviction and penalty points.
And if there’s one thing insurance companies love, its using the pretext of penalty points to magnify the premium you’ll have to pay next time round.
Even if it was perfectly within their power to prevent it in the first place.
Like it was with Sarah.